Dobsons 411

Hanging on for the ultimate ride--God's great adventure.
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Location: Oregon

The author of fourteen contemporary and historical novels, Melanie Dobson lives with her family in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Her latest novels are Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor and Chateau of Secrets. More info at

Monday, May 22, 2006

Our Big Backyard

Our “backyard” is a sliver of a patio. Our sounds of nature—busy traffic zooming past on the road below. We’re grateful for the patio space, but Jon and I both grew up in the country with big backyards. Without a patch of grass, our townhouse doesn’t quite feel like home.

I spent my early years kicking a ball outside our home, playing flashlight tag, picking strawberries, and sticking my toes in the lake. I’ve always wanted my children to have lots of room to play outside, but instead they pace back and forth on the narrow pavement, pushing teddy bears on their baby stroller and throwing a ball against the stucco wall.

A few weeks ago we ventured east into the Sequoia National Forest. We set up camp in the forest by a beautiful mountain lake. The girls waded in the creek, collected sticks, and built a campfire with their Dad. We hiked through the mountains, scrambled eggs over our Coleman stove, and heckled the squirrels who tried to raid our food.

In spite of the scrapes and bruises and a bout of stomach flu, the girls loved it! They had space to discover and collect their favorite things. Leaves. Rocks. Pinecones. Branches. Dandelions. Bugs. Bees. It was a toddler’s paradise.

As we headed back to the city, it hit me that we don’t have a tiny yard. Our backyard actually consists of forest, mountains, ocean, and lakes. There are thousands of acres to explore in California. Millions of rocks and branches and bugs to collect.

I never imagined I’d be raising my kids in Los Angeles, but we’re taking advantage of all the activities that the big city has to offer. And when we get tired of the crowds, we have a huge backyard just waiting to be explored.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Trapped: Fodder for Fiction

Yesterday morning I was supposed to de-stress with a relaxing massage, but I was running late (mistake #1) to my appointment. I rushed off without taking the therapist's phone number with me, but I didn’t think I would need it (mistake #2).

It wasn’t until after I parked that I also realized I’d forgotten to plug my cell phone in last night (mistake #3). Only a blinking sliver of power was left if I needed help. I wasn’t worried. Ahead of me was a half hour of quiet, blissful relaxation. No cell phone necessary.

The therapist’s office was on the second floor of an Italian villa-esque building. Three doors lined the brick courtyard on the side, but they were all locked. I stopped in a gift shop and asked how I could get to the second floor. The woman told me to try around back. When I did, the door popped open.

I ran up a stairwell, through a second door, and found the therapist’s office overlooking the courtyard below. Only a couple minutes late. I took a deep breath, and I knocked. And knocked. I waited and knocked again. No answer.

After ten minutes, I figured no one was coming so I walked back to the stairwell. But when I turned the doorknob, it didn’t budge. I pushed and tugged and turned again. Nothing. I mentally retraced my steps up and down the three floors. I went upstairs and opened the door—this led me to the roof. The only way out was to jump. Deciding against that option, I went back down to the courtyard and jiggled all the doors. No luck.

By now I was sweating a little. My hands were starting to shake. Would I be spending my weekend in this building? What would my husband do when I didn’t come home? I had our only car. He had the girls. With the little power I had left on the phone, I called him—seven times. No answer. On one of the walls was a red triangle with the number of a security company that’s supposed to keep people out of the building (not in). I called it. Disconnected.

I tried all the doors again. I thought through my dwindling options. And then I did what any panicked damsel in distress would do. I called 9-1-1. They connected me to the local police…and the local fire station…and some other office for emergencies even though I explained repeatedly that it was not an emergency. I was a bystander on a four-way conversation on how to get an uninjured person out of a locked building that was not burning to the ground. Apparently there’s no protocol.

Minutes later, with sirens blaring, a fire truck and police car flew up to the sidewalk. Mortified, I waved to them from the courtyard. I explained that all they needed to do was go around back. It was unlocked. Someone could hold open each door, and we could all walk out.

Open a door? If wasn’t going to happen. After all, there were six of them, and one of them was wielding a crow bar. Showtime.

The guy pounded the lock on the gate. Nothing happened. They all stepped back and he clobbered the metal until it ripped apart. I was free (and very grateful, I might add). One of the policemen waved to me, and I was off. Just like that.

When I finally contacted the massage therapist, she apologized profusely for the mix-up. No worries. I told her I write fiction, and we novelists love stuff like this. The scene is filed away in my brain—the embarrassment, the heat, the trembling in my hands. All I need to do is add a few creepy details. A dark night. A dangerous animal. A cell phone that dies before I can spew out my address. Maybe there’s someone looking for me…

Sometimes people ask me where I get ideas as I write fiction. Crammed in my head is a library of mistakes I’ve made, consequences from when I’ve messed up. As long as I keep making mistakes (and getting trapped in buildings), I’ll never run out of inspiration.